Headache is a tension pain or discomfort in the head, scalp, or neck, usually associated with muscle tightness in these areas.
- Tension headaches are one of the most common forms of headaches.They may occur at any age, but are most common in adults and adolescents.
- If a headache occurs two or more times a week for several months or longer, the condition is considered chronic. Chronic daily headaches can result from the under- or over-treatment of a primary headache. For example, patients who take pain medication more than 3 days a week on a regular basis can develop rebound headaches.
- Tension headaches can occur when the patient also has a migraine.
- Tension headaches occur when neck and scalp muscles become tense, or contract. The muscle contractions can be a response to stress, depression, a head injury, or anxiety.
- Any activity that causes the head to be held in one position for a long time without moving can cause a headache. Such activities include typing or other computer work, fine work with the hands, and using a microscope. Sleeping in a cold room or sleeping with the neck in an abnormal position may also trigger a tension headache.
Other triggers of headaches include:
- Alcohol use
- Caffeine (too much or withdrawal)
- Colds and the flu
- Dental problems such as jaw clenching or teeth grinding
- Eye strain
- Excessive smoking
- Nasal congestion
- Sinus infection
Tension headaches are not associated with structural changes in the brain.
Understanding your headache triggers can help you avoid situations that cause your headaches. A headache diary can help you identify your headache triggers. When you get a headache, write down the day and time the pain began. The diary should include notes about what you ate and drank in the last 24 hours, how much you slept and when, and what was going on in your life immediately before the pain started. For example, were you under any unusual stress? Also include information about how long the headache lasted, and what made it stop. Hot or cold showers or baths may relieve a headache for some people. You may need to make lifestyle changes if you have chronic tension headaches. This may include changing your sleep habits (usually to get more sleep), increasing exercise, and stretching the neck and back muscles. In some situations, you may need to change your job or recreational habits. Over-the-counter painkillers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen may relieve pain if relaxation techniques do not work. If you are planning to take part in an activity that you know will trigger a headache, taking one of these painkillers beforehand may be helpful. Narcotic pain relievers are sometimes prescribed. Remember that pain medications only relieve headache symptoms for a short period of time. After a while, they do not work as well or the help they provide does not last as long. Regular, overuse of pain medications can lead to rebound headaches.